The Woodrow Wilson Bridge yesterday proved again why it is one of the area's worst bottlenecks when an electrical short prevented a raised span from closing for more than an hour, backing up Sunday traffic on Interstate 95 for several miles on both sides of the bridge.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m., the drawbridge was raised to accommodate a passing sailboat on the Potomac River. When bridge workers tried to lower and lock the span back into place, an electrical short blacked out the control panel, said George Schoene, chief traffic engineer for the D.C. Department of Public Works.
An electrician was called to the scene, and power to the panel was restored about 2:45 p.m., Schoene said. Maryland and Virginia state police said traffic was backed up for more than two miles in either direction.
Schoene said he has not determined whether the short is related to an electrical malfunction in June that kept the raised drawbridge stuck for more than 80 minutes.
The drawbridge is raised about 400 times a year, most frequently in summer, when more boats and ships are on the water, Schoene said. The span had been opened at least once yesterday before the afternoon malfunction.
Raising and lowering the span typically takes about seven minutes, Schoene said.
The drawbridge and the traffic tie-ups it causes are among reasons federal and local officials want to replace the crossing between Alexandria and Prince George's County with a wider and higher bridge.
Proposals submitted so far have been deemed too costly or unsightly. Also to be resolved is where to put the bridge. An alignment just south of the current span would pass through wetlands and near some expensive real estate.